The Brice-Cowell Musket is returning to Orono.
The Musket, awarded annually to the winner of the University of Maine-University of New Hampshire football game, had been residing in Durham, N.H., since 2019. But UMaine scored 26 unanswered points to overcome a 20-7 deficit and beat UNH 33-20 at Wildcat Stadium in Durham on Saturday afternoon.
The Black Bears intercepted UNH quarterback Tommy Herion four times in the second half, two by true freshman Kahzir Brown, and Jonny Messina kicked four field goals as UMaine beat UNH in Durham for the first time since 2001.
UNH had won the last nine meetings at Wildcat Stadium by an average of 13.2 points per game and had won 16 of the previous 18 meetings overall.
UMaine finished off a 6-5 season with five wins in its last six games. The Black Bears wound up 4-4 in the Colonial Athletic Association.
UNH lost its eighth consecutive game after three wins to start the season and ended up 2-6 in CAA play.
UMaine junior quarterback Joe Fagnano completed 21 of 34 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns. Old Town graduate student Andre Miller capped his career with eight receptions for 136 yards and a touchdown, and Elijah Barnwell carried the ball 23 times for 111 yards.
Freddie Brock had 12 carries for 76 yards and also caught three passes for 11 yards before being carted off the field with a leg/ankle injury in the second half.
Devin Young caught three passes for 30 yards, and Shawn Bowman had two for 28 including a touchdown.
Ray Miller’s 11 tackles paced the UMaine defense and gave him 103 on the season. Adrian Otero and Shakur Smalls had six each.
“With all the hard work we’ve put in and everything we have been through, to cap the season like this is magical,” said Miller, whose eight catches gave him 104 for his UMaine career. “I wasn’t able to play in 2019 when we played them down here (knee injury) and that’s all I could think about. I wanted to leave my mark, get the Musket back so we can keep it.”
UMaine scored the last 13 points of the first half to tie it. Messina’s 37-yard field goal closed out the half to make it 20-20.
On UNH’s first possession of the second half, Brown intercepted a Herion pass at the UNH 34-yard line and, two plays later, Fagnano tossed a 30-yard touchdown pass to Miller to supply the Black Bears with their first lead of the game.
On UNH’s next possession, Brown’s interception and 16-yard return set up UMaine at the UNH 49-yard line.
Fagnano threw a 28-yard pass to Miller and Messina capped the drive with a 34-yard field goal to make it 30-20 with 3:17 left in the third quarter.
Richard Carr had UMaine’s third interception later in the third period and Shakur Smalls’ fourth-quarter interception set the stage for Messina’s 33-yard field goal with 6:05 left.
The UMaine defense made yet another big play with 3:44 left in the game when redshirt freshman nose tackle Dorian Royal sacked Herion on fourth down at the UMaine 14-yard line.
That sewed up the victory.
After giving up 299 total yards in the first half, the UMaine defense limited UNH to 95 in the second half to go with the four interceptions.
“We just got back to who we are. We played our brand of football: hard-nosed, disciplined, everyone running to the ball,” senior cornerback Carr said. “We kind of got away from that early as a unit. But once we realized what we had to do, we got the job done.”
Fagnano said the offense fed off the defense.
“They had four (interceptions) so it’s hard (for us) not to score points off them. When they’re doing their job, it makes our jobs a lot easier,” Fagnano said. “When you see guys out there making plays, you want to go out there and make plays.
“After seeing the defense play their hearts out and getting stops, (the offense) really came together as one there. We started getting on the same page. We ran the ball really well. The receivers played great. (Miller) had 10 targets with 136 yards and a touchdown. That’s a heckuva’ way to go out.”
The game certainly didn’t start well for the Black Bears as they fell behind 13-0.
Herion began the scoring by throwing a five-yard TD pass to Nick Lorden with 7:30 left in the first quarter, capping a 10-play, 98-yard drive.
UNH expanded the lead to 13-0 on Herion’s four-yard strike to Carlos Washington Jr. 1:14 into the second period.
CAA kickoff return leader Young’s 45-yard return with the ensuing kickoff gave UMaine great field position at the UNH 42-yard line and, four plays later, Brock scampered 29 yards for a touchdown.
But UNH answered just 2:03 later when the Wildcats marched 75 yards on just five plays with Herion throwing a 10-yard TD pass to Brian Espanet.
Those would be the last points UNH would score as the Black Bear defense stiffened.
Messina’s 34-yard field goal with 7:24 left in the half sliced the lead to 20-10 and, after the UMaine defense forced a three-and-out, Jacob Hennie’s 13-yard punt return gave UMaine the ball at the UNH-yard line.
Five plays later, Fagnano threw a 16-yard TD pass to Bowman to cut the deficit to three.
Later in the half, another Hennie punt return, this one a 16-yarder, enabled UMaine to start a drive at the UNH-46 and Fagnano engineered a drive that resulted in Messina’s game-tying field goal.
Herion completed 15 of 30 passes for 156 yards with three TDs and four interceptions. Washington had nine carries for 101 yards and Dylan Laube had 11 for 100 along with three catches for 41 yards. Espanet had three grabs for 48 yards. On defense, Bryce Shaw and Josiah Silver had 11 tackles apiece and Gunner Gibson had three sacks among his nine tackles.